I think the NFL did Seattle and San Francisco a favor this year by giving us three fewer days this week to fight and bicker about the greatest rivalry in football today. The shocking twist is that the "NFC arms race" has turned into a race to catch up to the Arizona Cardinals.
That's just part of the reason why the Thanksgiving matchup between these two 7-4 teams tied for second is paramount to each of their playoff hopes.
The centerpieces of this rivalry are usually Carroll and Harbaugh, Wilson and Kaepernick, Sherman and Crabtree, or maybe Kam Chancellor's shoulder versus Vernon Davis's torso, but what about some of the players we don't talk about as much? These guys are familiar to their respective fanbase but maybe not as much to the opposing fans. That's why we spoke to David "Fooch" Fucillo of Niners Nation to get three players flying "under the radar" to look for on Thursday.
He wrote everything you'll see for the 49ers, and I did the same for three player that San Fran should keep an eye on for Seattle.
49ers "Under the Radar" Players
CB Dontae Johnson - The 49ers secondary has played incredibly well, and the last two weeks, a key cog has been rookie Dontae Johnson. The 49ers drafted him in the fourth round, and injuries to the secondary have gotten him into the lineup. He is serving as the team's slot corner when they go into their nickel packages. He has the mix of size and speed that could lead to some good things in his career. He has limited experience thus far, but he is playing very well.
DT Ray McDonald - He's been around for some time now, and most people know who he is. And yet, his performance this season has flown under the radar. The 49ers struggled to get a consistent pass rush together early in the season, but he was one positive to the group. Justin Smith gets the love on the defensive line, and rookie Aaron Lynch has gotten the pass rush headlines, but McDonald actually leads the team in quarterback pressures. He is already benefitting further from the return of Aldon Smith.
C Marcus Martin - I've been including him every week, and that will continue most weeks. The 49ers spent a third round pick on Martin this past May, and he moved into the starting lineup after Daniel Kilgore fractured his ankle prior to the team's bye. He has had plenty of ups and downs since moving into the lineup. The center-QB exchanges still need some work, and his blocking has been inconsistent, but he will be starting at center the rest of the season, and building from those lumps.
Seahawks "Under the Radar" Players
OLB Bruce Irvin - He's not a guy whose name you'll hear a lot on game day because he's typically a rotational player, he's not in on many tackles, or many sacks, but he is a guy who can change a game in one play as evidenced by his back-to-back game-ending sacks on Cam Newton and pick-six of Derek Carr. His "rate" of getting QB hits, hurries, and sacks is as good for any 4-3 OLB this side of Von Miller on a per-play basis, it would just be nice if he were in on more plays. There's not a lot of consistency or reliability in Irvin's game, but he's also someone that could make the biggest play on Thursday.
TE Tony Moeaki - I think a lot of fans expected Seattle to do more to secure the tight end position in the offseason but instead they just renegotiated with Zach Miller and held onto what they had with Anthony McCoy, Luke Willson, and Cooper Helfet. Well, Miller and McCoy are on injured reserve and Willson is really just not much of a pass-catcher at this point. That's where Moeaki comes in and he's been a mini-revelation in his first two games with the team, first catching a touchdown against the Chiefs and then adding four catches for 34 yards last Sunday against the Cardinals. Russell Wilson seems to be having a hard time trusting or finding his receivers this season, but Moeaki could change that. It's shocking he was available midseason.
DE Cliff Avril - The Seahawks and I have something in common: We're not doing so well in the "sack" department. Seattle is a bottom-five team in getting to the quarterback and that's certainly something they need to improve upon but I don't think that Avril and Michael Bennett's "raw numbers" really paint a proper picture in how good they are. Sometimes when I see them close in on a QB I want to shout "Whoop there it is!" because I know tag team's back again. Avril had two sacks last week against the Cards, doubling his season total, and hopefully that's just a sign that more is to come on Thursday.